When representatives from the OC Air Show reached out to Jeff Merritt a few months ago about riding along in a U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet, he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I jumped at the chance,” said Merritt, a 56-year-old Salisbury resident. “This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Tuesday at NASA’s Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Merritt was one of
three VIP guests taken on a 45-minute ride by the No. 7 Blue Angels jet
— an F/A-18 Hornet
– flown by Cpt. Jeff Kuss. Kuss is an experienced pilot with over 1,500
hours logged flying for the Blue Angels and took Merritt and the other
riders through the twist and turns of several maneuvers that the Blue
Angels incorporate into their routine.
“It didn’t have air
conditioning, but it felt good,” Merritt said after the flight. “It was
really amazing. What (the pilots) do every day is unbelievable. I’ve
never experienced anything like it.”
Along with Merritt, the Blue
Angels took Brandy Sherrer of Baltimore and Emily Lampa of Salisbury TV
station — WMDT 47 — for rides as well. Sherrer is the Director of
Executive Events and Hospitality for Under Armour and took the first ride of the day with Merritt and Lampa flying after her.
best part is the rolls when you can see the smoke behind you. That was
epic,” Sherrer said. “The only bad part is that it’s really hot up
there. You will sweat.”
Aside from the other two guests, this
flight held a different meaning for Merritt. Through their organization
Operation We Care, Merritt and his wife Diana work with people in the
U.S. military every day.
“Actually we just sent about 100 packages
to four different ships,” Merritt said. “So we have some connection
with the Navy. But we’re happy to support all of our military.”
2007, the Merritt’s and their group has collected, sorted and packed
donated items to send care packages to U.S. troops. The project
continues to grow with the support of many people, local businesses and
civic organizations on Delmarva.
When the OC Air Show called
Merritt and presented him with the opportunity, he was willing to jump
through any hoop he had to so he could fly with the Navy.
actually went on diets when he found out, just so he would be
comfortable in the jet,” his wife Diana Merritt said. “He lost about 30
pounds. He’s been excited ever since he heard about it.”
Merritt also had to have clearance from a doctor, who cleared him only on one condition, he says.
went to the doctor and told him what I was going to and he signed off,
but before he gave me the form back he says, ‘I want the video.’ I told
him I would have to edit it first,” Merritt said with a laugh.
On Tuesday morning, Merritt was instructed to eat a light breakfast prior to his flight.
“They told me not to go to an all-you-can-eat,” he said.
in Wallops, Merritt received more tips and instruction from the No. 7’s
crew chief, Eli Lang – a First Class Petty Officer with the U.S. Navy.
“Just have fun and keep your energy up,” he said. “That’s the best advice I can give.”
the jets being able to travel up to 1,400 miles per hour, Merritt was
concerned about feeling the effects of a G-Shock which can cause loss of
vision and consciousness.
“That just means you need to squeeze
harder,” Lang said after teaching Merritt and the others how to brace
themselves for the maneuvers.
Merritt didn’t experience any unconsciousness, but did hit his head on the canopy when Kuss flipped the jet over once.
Merritt landed from his flight, Kuss and Lang presented him with a
personalized lithograph from the Blue Angels that showed their team
flying over the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii.
Merritt enjoyed the flight and said he would “absolutely” do it again.
But more than anything, he considered it a privilege to fly with the Blue Angels.
was an honor,” Merritt said. “I’d like to thank the Ocean City Air Show
and the Blue Angels for allowing me to do this. It was a beautiful way
to see the country.
“I don’t get excited about a whole lot, but this was different.”
rest of the Blue Angels will arrive in Wallops Island on Wednesday and
will practice on Thursday and Friday. The Blue Angels are scheduled to
fly on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend at the Ocean City Air Show.
Both shows start at noon with the Blue Angels flying at the end of each
flight sequence, expected around 3 p.m.